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Behind the Scenes of Read Rust

Published on Sun, 4 February 2018

On 3 Jan 2018 the Rust blog put out a call for community blog posts that reflected on 2017 and proposed goals and directions for Rust in 2018. Responses came in across Twitter, Reddit, and elsewhere. I was enjoying reading all the posts so decided to build a little website to collect them all together: Thus Read Rust was born.

Initially it was just an RSS feed of the posts but it soon acquired a list of the posts themselves that proved useful as January progressed. The #Rust2018 period is now over and the Rust roadmap for 2018 has been drafted with the responses. Read Rust got linked near the top, which made me happy. With January over I had to decided what to do with the site. Since I built the workflow for aggregating and publishing posts I decided to continue it past January as a more general Rust content aggregator.

Yesterday I launched the update. A number of new categories join the initial Rust 2018 category, bringing the list to:

Each category has its own page and RSS feed in case readers are only interested in that category. I also set up a Twitter account, @read_rust, that tweets new posts.

Tooling

Read Rust is built with the Cobalt static site compiler, which itself is written in Rust. Most of the content is derived from a central JSON Feed file that lists all the posts. Each of the category pages uses Cobalt’s support for data files to load the JSON Feed and render a list of links tagged with that particular category.

I also wrote a couple of tools (in Rust) to help with managing the site. add-url is used to add a new link to the site. It is supplied a URL and one or more categories. It then resolves redirects (to remove t.co, bit.ly, etc.) to come up with the canonical URL, then fetches the page and with varying success extracts the title, description, author, and publication date from it.

A simple Makefile combined with the second tool, generate-rss takes the main JSON Feed and filters it to generate each of the feeds for the different categories in both RSS and JSON Feed formats.

All the content and source code is available on GitHub.

Design Decisions

Feeds

The site promotes the RSS and JSON Feeds available. Despite rumours of their death, Feed readers are a still a thing and provide a very pleasant reading environment without all the ads, tracking and other junk that often accompanies some of the alternatives. Additionally the feeds allow the content to be reused in other ways. For example Florian Gilcher wrote a Rust tutorial that uses the Read Rust feed to a build command line reader for Read Rust.

Managing Content

Managing the site is a manual process. This was done initially to make getting the site online during January as quick as possible. I could have easily put together a basic Rails site but that brings along with it more demanding hosting requirements, and the need to stay on top of Ruby, Rails, and gem upgrades. Being a static site means that it’s just a simple collection of files that are cheap and easy to host.

The drawback to a static site is it’s harder to implement dynamic behaviour. I’ve been able to work around this when needed:

Privacy, Tracking, and Performance

Read Rust respects your privacy. There are no trackers, analytics, ads, crypto-coin miners, or other third party code on the site at all. In fact there is no JavaScript on the site at all.

The styling, basic as it is, was designed almost from scratch so there’s not thousands of lines of unused CSS framework downloading behind the scenes. There’s just 111 lines of CSS, initially derived from bettermotherf***ingwebsite.com.

My one indulgence is the Nunito Sans font, which adds about 40kb.

The page weight for a first time visitor to the home page is about 50kb and the site is often fully loaded in 1 or 2 seconds. That’s not to say it couldn’t be smaller of faster (by adding a CDN for example), just that by considering choices when building the site, it is fast, responsive, cacheable, and respectful of visitors almost for free.

Page load times (fully loaded) reported by WebPagetest are:

Conclusion

So that is the process that led to making Read Rust the way it is and how the content is managed. If you stumble across an interesting Rust post feel free to submit it!

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